High Tuition And FeesCollege Costs: Not Just Tuition

When planning for your children’s college education, pay attention to more than just tuition and fees when you choose a school. Housing and food are among the many outlays that pump up the price of education.

Tuition and fees only account for about 39% of the total budget for students who live on campus at public four-year state colleges and universities, according to the College Board. For students who live off-campus at public two-year state colleges and universities, tuition and fees only account for 20% of the budget.

The College Board also found that during the 2012-2013 school year, a student who commutes to a two-year, in-state public college paid about $15,500. At a private non-profit, four-year university, the average budget was more than $43,000.

The average college budget for a student who lived on campus and attended an in-state, four-year public institution and was more than $22,200. This means that costs besides tuition and fees amount to about $13,500. This is not a small amount of money for anyone.

Where does all the non-tuition money go? Books, supplies and transportation figure into the mix, certainly. But room and board usually comprises the lion’s share of these costs – about $9,200 for full-time undergraduates. This is a good point to look for savings.

Compare dorm costs as well as tuition. Campus Grotto compiled a list of colleges with the most expensive dorms in 2011. These tend to be in posh urban areas like New York. If your child goes to a school in a big city far from home, you can probably find an apartment off campus, perhaps a short bus ride away, for a fraction of the price.

Another big money-waster in college is the meal plan that often comes with the dorm room. This usually allow students to eat as much as they please. If the student only eats two meals a day or only grabs a bowl of cereal sometimes, it isn’t very cost-efficient. The uneaten meals left over at the end of the year usually don’t roll over to next year. Look at the costs of food at the school dining halls and compare it to local grocery store and restaurant prices. If you can, start off with a small meal plan and top it up later if it proves insufficient.

If your child’s school of choice is close enough, she can save plenty of money on housing and food if she stays home and commutes to school.

Don’t let the high cost of education and related fees discourage your child from attending the top school of her choice. Scrimping and saving to pay for college is worth it. The median income for a person with a bachelor’s degree in 2010 (the most recent data available) was $40,000. That’s $15,000 more than the median income for a high school graduate. In addition, the unemployment rate for college graduates was significantly lower than that of high school graduates.  With these averages, it doesn’t take too many years to make back the cost of education.

If you can’t cover the cost alone, scholarships, grants and loans can take care of the rest. The College Board report showed that full-time undergraduate students received more than $14,000 from various sources during the 2011-2012 academic year on average.